(Updated Aug. 12 1:05 a.m.: Taylor Swift performed for more than 115,000 at her two Atlanta concerts.)
Taylor Swift knows that people talk about her.
She also knows that, despite the millions of fawning fans who follow her every blink on social media, there are millions more who criticize the way she lives her personal life, don’t like her songs or find her act phony.
She wisely channeled that irritation into an album that, while maybe not her most musically interesting, is powered by a rawness that feels different from her past vitriolic – albeit melodic – romantic laments.
Swift’s “Reputation” tour, which packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium Friday night for the first of two nearly sold-out shows (a total audience count will be released after Saturday’s performance), is the sweetest revenge, a companion to the album of the same name that utilizes captivating visuals, clever staging, casually chic costumes and Swift’s potent catalog to weave the tale of pop’s mightiest star at the grand old age of 28.
“Are you ready for it?” she purred over the electronic buzz of show opener “…Ready for It?” She fiercely prowled the football-field-sized stage in knee-high black boots, surrounded by an army of dancers with whom she gamely kept pace several times throughout the show.
A satisfied grin crept across Swift’s face as she surveyed the crowd at song’s end, the gorgeous curved video screens behind her and the stadium’s halo board showcasing the most minute details of her sweat-flecked skin and piercing eyes that don’t miss a trick.
It was notable how often Swift was caught having fun – wrinkling her nose at her guitarist and bouncing during a sharp medley of “Style,” “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me”; cracking up with one of her dancers at the end of “King of My Heart”; and engaging in one of the most exuberant concert moments of the year during a color-splashed dance-a-thon with Charli XCX and Camila Cabello (both provided fizzy, professional opening sets) for “Shake It Off.”
The most discussed motif of Swift’s tour – those snakes – featured prominently during the icy snarl that is “Look What You Made Me Do.” Between the inflatable serpents hissing behind her and the Kanye-like “tilted stage” (truly a great burn) rolled out as a new playground, Swift created a spectacle worthy of Broadway (or yes, the Super Bowl halftime show… if soft drink sponsors weren’t an issue).
Swift is the first artist to play two nights in the downtown Atlanta sports palace – which, granted, has only been open a year and will be matched by Beyonce and Jay-Z in two weeks – but a female solo artist who can command a stadiums-only tour is indeed a unicorn. And one who is so successful at such grand ambition is an even greater anomaly.
It’s a mighty space to fill – “What a nice, new stadium this is – it’s so cool to play in here,” Swift said early in the two-hour show – and the inclusion of catwalks and a pair of “B” stages, which the singer flew to and from and walked in between, glad-handing fans as two stone-faced bodyguards marched behind her, gave every side of the stadium a change to exist in Swift’s aura.
She’s an intriguing combination of natural and theatrical, grabbing a green acoustic guitar to sing “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” and the tour debut of “This Love” while sweaty and a little breathless, then seamlessly morphing into a coquettish vixen to romp through the inviting thump of “Blank Space” and roar over a frenzy of red lights and squealing guitars for “Bad Blood.”
Swift spoke often with the audience – a mixture of young girls and those who were young girls when Swift was spotlighting her twangy side with “Tim McGraw” - about her history playing Atlanta (13 times, she said), her songwriting inspirations and the importance of feeling connected.
She ventured into her patented “You really like me?!” territory while sitting behind a piano. But where the Swift of even five years ago would have milked the crowd response for an eternity, now she graciously smiled, the genuine affection for her fans apparent, and performed a lush piano rendition of her 2010 anthem, “Long Live,” and the finest track from “Reputation,” the tender, introspective “New Year’s Day.”
Swift has evolved into an admirable performer who can strut, sweat and swing her hair with the fervor of her pop forebears. But it’s the little moments – the smile at the piano, the wrinkled nose at the guitarist – that should really be the root of her reputation.